Whisky Review: Bunnahabhain Ceòbanach

Bunnahabhain Ceòbanach

When you think of Bunnahabhain distillery, you usually think specifically of not peat. So many Islay distilleries specialize in peated whisky that Bunnahabhain is remarkable precisely because it doesn’t. Now and again, however, Bunnahabhain does introduce a peated whisky, and Ceòbanach is a perfect example.

There is no age statement on the bottle, but the word is that Ceòbanach is 10 years old. The name translates to “Smoky Mist.” The goal with Ceòbanach was to create an old-fashioned whisky which might taste similar to what you would find for sale around the turn of the 20th century. Being as the distillery was founded in 1881, this whisky would hearken back to its beginnings.

Despite being a limited edition release, it isn’t that hard to get your hands on Bunnahabhain Ceòbanach. I purchased mine for around £60.

The bottle which Bunnahabhain Ceòbanach comes in is very dark, so it is impossible to see the color of the liquid until you pour it into your glass. It comes out a pale golden color.

On the nose, you pick up smoky peat along with brine and salt—a classic Islay scent. There are also strong notes of tar and a hint of coconut and vanilla. Almost no sweetness comes through. It is a dark and heavy profile, reminiscent of the sea.

On the palate, the flavors are very similar to what I detected through scent alone. The peat is there along with the tar and the lemon. Along with those notes, there is also oak and spices. I no longer really detect any vanilla, and again, there is no sweetness.

I’m not sure if I was surprised to note that Bunnahabhain Ceòbanach isn’t all that “strong” with respect to the peat. On one hand, it is most of what I smelled when I opened the bottle, so I had initially guessed the flavor might be stronger. But on the other hand, this is in line with what Bunnahabhain Ceòbanach usually produces. Since Bunnahabhain Ceòbanach usually steers clear of peat altogether, we should expect them to go easy on it when they do use it. Most of their regular customers are in the market for a break from peat after all.

If you are interested in a peaty whisky that isn’t going to totally overwhelm you, I think that Bunnahabhain Ceòbanach is an excellent choice. It is the classic Islay peat experience, just mellowed out to a level which allows the other flavors to shine through.

Bunnahabhain Ceòbanach : Review Summary

Color: Pale gold.

Nose: Smoky peat, salt, brine, tar, coconut, vanilla.

Palate: Light peat, tar, lemon, oak, spices.

Whisky Review: Wemyss Velvet Fig

Wemyss Velvet Fig

I was hunting for something new to try for the holidays this year, and Velvet Fig by Wemyss Malts caught my eye. This is a limited edition blend, but it wasn’t too hard to find it for under $50. Interestingly enough, it’s the first blended malt whisky from Wemyss which hasn’t been chill-filtered. It’s also the first to contain 46% alcohol. It’s been matured in Oloroso sherry casks, so I went into this expecting some sweetness and that distinctive sherry flavour.

In the bottle, Velvet Fig has a beautiful, rich deep amber brown color that is almost red. The label contains a band of lilac color which offsets the amber nicely. Opening the bottle, I smelled a delicious blend of poached pears, wine, raisins, oak, apple pie, cinnamon, cloves, and something very much like cake.

In terms of flavor, this was very sweet, just as I expected, but not sickly sweet. There was a lot of spice in there to keep the flavors balanced. I tasted caramel apples, raisins, cherries, apricots, figs, and plenty of nutmeg, cinnamon, and cloves. There was definitely something in there like scones or fruitcake. The liquid was thick with a syrupy consistency, and the finish was long and smooth and lingered. The last note I tasted reminded me of roasted chestnuts.

You are not going to find a better choice of the holidays, and at under $50 a bottle, this is a good deal especially for a limited edition. If you do not like a lot of sweetness, you may want to steer clear, but if you don’t mind it and are looking for a dessert dram, you should love it.

Wemyss Malts Velvet Fig : Review Summary

Color: Deep reddish amber.

Nose: Smells like Christmas: Poached pears in wine, oak, apple pie, rains, cloves, cinnamon, cake.

Palate: Tastes like Christmas too: Fruitcake, scones, cherries, figs, apricots, nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon, raisins, caramel apples.

Whisky Review: Oban Little Bay Small Cask

Oban Little Bay Small Cask

If you have tried regular Oban Single Malt and enjoyed it, you will want to check out Oban Little Bay. The “Little Bay” whisky is created by taking the original Oban and aging it in small casks. This matures the whisky and imparts some additional flavors from the oak casks. This in turn is supposed to enhance the smoothness and the flavor. Incidentally, the name “Oban” actually means “little bay” in Gaelic. The town of Oban is of course located on a small bay.

This whisky comes in a simple bottle with a pale blue label. The liquid is a medium hue that rests about halfway between gold and amber. Opening the bottle, you detect notes of oak, espresso, citrus, apple, and salt. There is something sweet which might be honey or caramel. You also pick up some spice.

In terms of flavors, there are no major surprises here. On the palate, this whisky has a lot of the same notes that you can detect through smell. What I thought was espresso may actually be chocolate, but everything else is much as expected: apple, salt, oak, and orange. The spice note is more pronounced and definitely includes cloves. Maybe the only unexpected departure was the lack of sweetness. While I smelled honey or caramel, I don’t really taste any. Some of the fruit notes are slightly sweet, but it is a very faint sweetness. All in all, this is a pretty dry whisky. It is a little acidic on the finish.

Comparing this to the Oban 14 Year Old, I would say that there are some aspects I like better and others not so much. The 14-er was richer and spicier and had a lingering finish, but the Little Bay whisky seems to have more complexity in the flavors. I’m not really sure which of them was smoother.

You can purchase Oban Little Bay Small Cask for around $50-$70, which is not a bad price at all considering that this is a very enjoyable dram. I tend to prefer slightly sweeter whiskies, but I can’t complain about the dryness here. It was a welcome change from my usual selection, and an interesting reinterpretation of the original Oban.

Oban Little Bay Small Cask : Review Summary

Color: Medium golden amber.

Nose: Espresso, oak, citrus, apple, salt, honey, caramel, spice.

Palate: Chocolate, apple, orange, salt, oak, cloves.

Whisky Review: Fettercairn Fior

Fettercairn Fior

The Fettercairn distillery traces its origins clear back to 1824. Despite this long and rich history, it is far from a well-known brand. Several years back Fettercairn released a number of new single malts as part of a brand relaunch, one of which was the Fettercairn Fior. This whisky was matured in bourbon barrels and released without an age statement.

I was prepared for serious peat with this one, and was surprised when the most pronounced flavours and aromas actually weren’t peat at all. In the bottle, the whisky has a deep amber color that is almost red. The label with the unicorn logo is simple and elegant. Opening the bottle, I immediately got a strong and delightful whiff of vanilla, toffee, sherry, orange, coffee, chocolate, cream, and smoky peat.

On the palette, coffee and chocolate are the dominant notes. This isn’t a milky chocolate, despite something creamy in the flavour profile. It is a dark, almost bitter chocolate. Smoke and toffee weave throughout along with just a hint of salt adding an edge to the sweetness. I also pick up ginger and spice. It is a very pleasing flavour combination. There is plenty of peat, yes, but I could imagine this appealing to a whisky drinker even if they are not a huge fan of peat thanks to the complex symphony of dessert flavours present here. Even I have mixed feelings about peat, and I really liked this one.

You can purchase the Fettercairn Fior for around $40-$50. This is quite a reasonable price for such a good whisky. All I can say is that Fettercairn deserves to be much better known than it is.

Fettercairn Fior : Review Summary

Color: Deep reddish amber.

Nose: Coffee, chocolate, vanilla, cream, smoky peat, orange, sherry, toffee.

Palate: Coffee, dark chocolate, smoky peat, toffee, salt, ginger, spice.

Whiskey Review: Knob Creek Rye

Knob Creek Rye Whiskey Review

If you are looking for an inexpensive rye whiskey, you may notice Knob Creek on the shelf at your local liquor store. It’d be hard to miss it; the label with the bold typeface is undeniably a standout. The cost isn’t high at all, ranging anywhere from $20-$40 or so.

What’s the story with this one? It’s made in small batches and aged in charred barrels. Knob Creek is at least 51% rye (in case you aren’t in the know, that is the principle difference between a rye whisky and a bourbon; a bourbon must be at least 51% corn).

That said, I’m not sure what the exact ratios are in Knob Creek Rye Whiskey, but it seemed to me I still detected a fair bit of corn. So while this falls into the category of rye whiskey, it seems to me that it would appeal to most bourbon drinkers.

You may already be familiar with Knob Creek Small Batch Bourbon, which also contains some rye—but corn of course is the predominant ingredient. The presence of the rye always gives it a unique edge, so I looked forward to seeing this rye-based counterpart.

Knob Creek Bourbon comes with a cork stopper, but Knob Creek Rye comes with a screw cap. I prefer the cork, but no big deal. The packaging is otherwise easy to appreciate. Like I said, that eye-catching label features some great design work.

In the bottle, the whiskey I bought was a light golden color that was close to amber. I’ve noticed that there is some variation from bottle to bottle with this whisky. It can range anywhere from the light color I got to a medium-dark amber color.

After you get the cap off, you pick up strong notes of oak, caramel, and spices. In the backdrop there are also some subtle herbs that I can’t identify, but I think I pick up something which is giving the aroma a slightly astringent edge. It could be mint or ginger.

On the palate, oak is the strongest note, accompanied by caramel and vanilla. Just as I expected, spices are present, though not nearly as strong as I thought they might be. I am also certain now that the note I was picking up before is ginger. This gives it a bite, as does the strong alcohol content (100 proof). The finish is long and smooth and peppery with a hint of some kind of fruit that I can’t quite identify. Like I mentioned, to me this tastes similar to a bourbon, and actually pretty close to the Knob Creek Bourbon, but obviously the rye flavors are more pronounced.

While this is not the most innovative or amazing rye whiskey I have tried, it was plenty enjoyable, especially at the very reasonable price point. If you enjoy bourbons and want to try a rye whiskey which tastes similar, give it a try, especially if you find it for sale at the lower end of the price bracket.

Knob Creek Rye : Review Summary

Color: Medium golden amber.

Nose: Oak, caramel, cinnamon, nutmeg, mint, ginger, herbs.

Palate: Oak, vanilla, spice, caramel, ginger, white pepper, fruit.

Whisky Review: Elements of Islay Peat

Elements of Islay Peat

If you are familiar with Elements of Islay, you can recognize their distinctive bottles and labels from a mile away. Elements is a series of single malt releases, each one produced by a different distillery in Islay. The bottles are made to look like those you might find in a chemistry lab. Each one has a symbol on the label which is presented like a chemical element, but it is actually a code for a specific distillery, for example “Lp” for Laphroaig.

This makes “Peat” an unusual entry into the series, since “Peat” is obviously not a specific distillery. Let’s see how this blended malt whisky measures up.

In the bottle, “Peat’ is very pale gold in color, one of the lightest whiskies I have tried. The label is the classic Elements of Islay design, with “Peat” written in the same clear font as the “chemical symbols” denoting the distilleries of the other whiskies in the line. It’s a very eye-catching design, and one I really love.

Opening the bottle, I smell exactly what I expect: peat, and lots of it. There is also a clean citrus note, very bright. I pick up something flowery and sweet and a hint of hay and smoke or ash. The sweet smell on closer examination seems like it is probably vanilla. All in all, more complexity than I expected from something simply named “Peat.”

The flavor is again is exactly what you would expect given the name and the scents. You get a strong wave of peat, coupled with some hay and pepper notes (the pepper caught me a bit off guard; I picked it up on the nose, but it was hotter than I thought it would be). The pepper is woven into a medley of cloves, allspice, and nutmeg. The clean, bright citrus note is distinctively present, and the finish is very peaty. Only now do I pick up the vanilla along with that ash or smoke flavor. The peat is definitely in the “medicinal” flavor area.

You can pick up a bottle of Elements of Islay “Peat” for around 35 GBP. That is a reasonable price for a solid whisky. Peat is something which draws up strong reactions from whisky-drinkers; some love it, others detest it, and others still like some peat flavors but cannot stand others. If you like “medicinal” tasting peat, you will probably really like Elements of Islay “Peat.” While it is not the most complex whisky you will ever try, the citrus notes and spices save it from being overly simplistic.

Elements of Islay Peat : Review Summary

Color: Very pale gold, more like the color of straw.

Nose: Peat, peat, peat, citrus, flowers, vanilla, smoke, hay, ash.

Palate: Lots and lots of peat (medicinal), hay, pepper, cloves, nutmeg, allspice, citrus, vanilla, smoke, ash.

Whiskey Review: Defiance

Defiance Whiskey

Photo credit: http://defiancewhiskey.tumblr.com/

Defiance Whiskey is a new bourbon whiskey made in St. Louis and aged in Missouri white oak barrels. According to Daniel Fort, owner of the father-and-son brand, their goal was to create a new type of bourbon whiskey that would appeal not only to the traditional whiskey-drinking demographic, but to a younger and more diverse crowd including women and Millenials. As Fort explains, “We don’t want to be just another Southern-branded, the-Civil-War-could-have-gone-either-way kind of whiskey.”

If the name sounds familiar, it could be because you are already familiar with Defiant American Single Malt Whisky. The two shouldn’t be confused: Defiant comes from North Carolina, not Missouri, and there is no connection between the two brands.

Defiance comes in a beautiful bottle with a design that combines new and old elements and shouts “classic, yet modern.” I love the DW logo in stylized script and the modern, edgy typeface for “Defiance Whiskey.” The ribbon design around it gives the entire graphic a very sleek look. The liquid is a deep gold which is almost, but not quite, amber.

Opening the bottle, I detect rye, corn, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla, and caramel, with the rye as the prominent note. Tasting, I get plenty of rye and cinnamon with an astringent punch. The sweet notes of caramel and fruit only emerge on the aftertaste and smooth, dry finish. I love the progression of the flavors from spicy to sweet, but I could live without the astringent bite. A bottle will cost you around $27, which isn’t bad.

All in all, this is a great debut for a new whiskey brand, and as the beautiful design work on the bottle promises, it definitely is different from a lot of whiskeys I have tried. If they can get rid of that astringent note, their next bourbon will be even more delightful.

Defiance Whiskey : Review Summary

Color: Dark gold (or light amber).

Nose: Rye, corn, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla, caramel.

Palate: Rye, cinnamon, astringency, caramel, sweet fruit.

Whisky Review: Benromach 10 Year Old

Benromach 10 Year Old

Benromach is an old name in the whisky world, and I do mean old. The distillery first got started in 1898. In 1983 they closed up for a while, but they re-opened again in 1993 after being purchased by Gordon & McPhail. Since then, they have specialized in Speyside style malts, and in fact won “Best Speyside Single Malt – 12 Years and Under” at the 2014 World Whisky Awards.

The Benromach 10 Years Old was matured for the first nine years in bourbon barrels (80%) and sherry hogshead casks (20%). For the final year, it was aged in oloroso casks. Naturally I was excited to get a chance to try it. Let’s check it out.

The bottle distinguishes itself immediately through the quirky “handwritten” style writing on the front which reads, “The Classic Speyside Single Malt Scotch Whisky.” Aside from that, the labeling is very simple and basic. The liquid in the bottle is a bright golden color.

Opening the bottle, the aroma that reaches my nose is complex, and it takes me a while to distinguish all the different notes. I get sherry right off the top (as expected), and of course peat—though the peat is lighter than I would have thought. Other definite notes include apples, nuts, something sweet like toffee or caramel, and spices.

On the palate, I immediately pick up the apple note, which is more like a green apple than a red one—it has that bitter tang, which plays nicely with the sweetness from the caramel and sherry flavors. There are other fruits in here as well, maybe oranges or some other kind of citrus. I also pick up a hint of licorice, white pepper, and some other spices I can’t quite pick out. I am delighted that this isn’t overly sweet. I also am happy to say that the peat is there, but it never is overpowering.

This is a classic Speyside whisky, but in more than one way it surprised me. I saw the notes listed, and both peat and sherry gave me pause because I often find that there is just “too much” of either flavor. That is not at all the case with the Benromach 10 Years Old. It is beautifully balanced, and at around $30-$40, it is a bargain to boot.

Benromach 10 Year Old : Review Summary

Color: Golden.

Nose: Caramel, apple, nuts, peat, sherry, spice.

Palate: Green apple, citrus, caramel, sherry, licorice, white pepper, spices.